22 Apr 2021

New Zealand, Australian foreign ministers speak about China concerns

6:16 pm on 22 April 2021

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta has once again raised concern about so called 501 deportees with the Australian government.

Mahuta took the opportunity at a face-to-face meeting in Wellington today with Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne.

Payne flew into the country yesterday for the first face-to-face foreign ministers' consultations since the Covid-19 pandemic began and will be meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tomorrow.

At a media briefing afterwards, Mahuta said the countries have moved on from comments that were made last month by Australia's former home affairs minister Peter Dutton, who said that the deportees were "trash".

"The things that needed to be said were said at the time in relation to the statements made. I can say we continue to raise our concerns around the issue of deportations and the impact it has on New Zealand.

"We have reflected time and again through the prime minister and as recently as our conversation today the level of that concern."

Mahuta said this matter would continue to be raised and discussions were ongoing.

Payne said the New Zealand woman who was suspected of belonging to IS in Syria, and who is now in Turkey awaiting possible deportation with her children to New Zealand, was also discussed today.

Australia has revoked the citizenship of Suhayra Aden who had lived in that country for several years before travelling to Syria.

Payne said it was a complex case, especially as children were involved.

She said both ministers had a constructive discussion, and the two countries would continue to work together, but she cannot provide any update.

When asked by a journalist if New Zealand's concerns on issues such as deportees and the mother being deported from Turkey were taken seriously by Australia, Payne replied that they were and discussions were ongoing on both issues.

On Australia's relationship with China, and New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damian O'Connor's recent advice that China needs to be spoken to with respect, Payne said her country's relationship with China had changed in recent years.

However, her government had a policy that had clarity and was consistent, and China was aware of this, she said.

Australia had torn up agreements Victoria had with China for the Belt and Road deals in the last 24 hours because they were inconsistent with Australia's foreign policy. States were now obliged to consult the federal government about such deals, she said.

She said it was "entirely a matter for New Zealand" what it did with its own memorandum of agreementwith China over a Belt and Road deal.

Mahuta said that with regard to New Zealand's relationship with China, when New Zealand wanted to speak about human rights it did not have to be within the framework of Five Eyes as a first priority.

She told Checkpoint later that she rejected media reports of Australia being blindsided over her remarks on the Five Eyes alliance last week.

During the speech on China, Mahuta discussed the Five Eyes alliance and said New Zealand could raise human rights issues outside the Five Eyes relationship which was more focused on security and intelligence.

Mahuta said while she had not let Payne know in advance what she was going to say, Payne had since read her speech.

During today's briefing and also to Checkpoint, Mahuta said Five Eyes was focused on security and intelligence and human rights issues could be dealt with separately.

"It's a very important relationship. We respect that particular arrangement for the purpose for which it was established."

She said New Zealand's membership in Five Eyes was secure and there was no suggestion apart from in the media that it might be expelled from the alliance.

Payne had not questioned New Zealand's commitment to the alliance, she said.

At the briefing, Payne thanked New Zealand for the warm and heartfelt welcome, arriving soon after the trans-Tasman bubble opened.

The groundwork has been laid today for both countries' prime ministers to meet for talks soon, Payne said.

Mahuta said the quickness of Payne's visit - so soon after the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble - was a testament to the strong relationship between the two countries.

"The moment isn't lost either that we are so close to Anzac Day," with soldiers from both countries standing shoulder to shoulder through wars, she said.

Payne said Anzac Day remained deeply important to both nations, and this morning she laid a wreath at New Zealand's national memorial Pukeahu to honour the fallen from both countries.

The day had brought Australia and New Zealand together for over a century, she said.

Payne said it was very special to be in Wellington. The diligence, focus and drive both nations displayed through the pandemic had enabled the free travel between the two countries, she said.

New Zealand and Australia's foreign ministers Nanaia Mahuta and Marise Payne

New Zealand and Australia's foreign ministers Nanaia Mahuta and Marise Payne Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Payne said she had promised that for her next visit she would travel with Mahuta to her electorate and will also fit in a trip to Coromandel, which is special to her.

Today's visit was announced the day the trans-Tasman travel bubble began on Monday.

Payne is accompanied by Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja, who has a separate programme and is meeting with Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio.